Month: December 2013

What’s on your Bucket List?

As a general rule, I don’t make resolutions.

Perhaps it’s all psychological, but I have never done well keeping them when they go by that name. However, I do like the idea of setting my intentions towards learning new things, polishing some already learned skills, and making improvements. I know myself well enough to realize that if I don’t put a specific deadline on those intentions, I’ll add them to the “Oh, Eventually” pile and they might never be accomplished. For me, 2014 will be very food/cooking centric. I’m starting culinary school, I’m renewing my focus on this blog, and I’m looking to make some changes in how I eat and interact with food on a personal level. So, I’m making a culinary bucket list. As with all good goals, these will be specific, measurable, and achievable. I’m writing them here because I believe in accountability, and the responsibility of checking in with you all periodically to find out how I’m doing with these goals will keep the Master Procrastinator in me under control.

1. Clear out all the unnecessary kitchen gadgets. Do I have two of anything? Do I have kitchen tools that only do one thing? Uni-taskers can be the enemy of apartment dwelling cooks with limited storage space. Do I need two cheese graters? Probably not. I know I can be a much more organized cook when I feel like I’m not crowded out of my own kitchen by all the extra “stuff” I’ve accumulated.

2. Re-join my co-op and/or join a CSA. On my list of food priorities, I’m a cook first, and a locavore second, so I will always have things like imported olive oil and cheese hanging around. Having said that, I really would like to give more support to all the wonderful folks in my food community. There’s a lot of debate about what “local” really means, but co-ops and CSAs are a pretty easy vehicle for sourcing food more locally than what you can find at the regular grocery store. 

3. Replace at least three store-bought staples with their homemade versions. The lowest hanging fruits for me with this item are bread, almond milk, and jam. I’ve been making my own jam for awhile now, but I’ve been putting off the other two. Not sure why. I drink almond milk exclusively (vs. animal milk or soy milk), but I don’t drink enough of it to ever justify the amount I’m buying from the store. Same goes for bread— I do use it, but not often enough to warrant the giant loaf of store-bought styrofoam I end up grabbing purely out of habit. Making my own means I can produce enough to be useful, with better quality, but not so much that it goes to waste. 

4. Master my knives, and the basic knife cuts: dice, julienne, brunoise, baton, and chiffonade. If you ever saw me with my chef’s knife, you’d probably recommend that I put the local Emergency Room on speed dial. I get the job done, but I would imagine it’s pretty hard to watch. My fingers are always in the way, my knives aren’t sharp, and when I get frustrated over those dull knives I often resort to General Half-Assery and Hacking. However, I feel like this one will probably be accomplished fairly quickly. Rolled into the cost of my first quarter culinary tuition is a brand new knife kit. On top of that, my first two classes are fundamentals courses, during which I’ll be taught knife skills, and will even have to complete a practical exam demonstrating that I’ve learned said knife skills. If I can manage to get through it all with an A, and no stitches, I’ll consider this one DONE. 

5. Master Bouillabaisse. I’ve wanted to do this since I experienced Mizuna‘s bouillabaisse a couple years ago on my birthday. It seems to me to be one of those perfect examples of how to layer flavor using some pretty humble ingredients, a skill I think every good cook should have. 

6. Quality over Quantity. I have a pretty definitive health/weight loss goal for 2014. I also have a pretty strict food budget. However, I very firmly believe that nothing should be off limits. That sounds contradictory, but I’ve noticed that when I’m happy and satisfied with what I’m eating, a little goes a long way. Instead of cramming my face with lots of cheap, low quality food, I lose weight and, more importantly, feel so much better when I’m eating smaller quantities of the good stuff. It’s not about counting calories, or fat grams, or carbs. For me, it’s about making sure I’m eating the very best quality food that I can afford. The smaller portion sizes are dictated by my budget, not by my “diet,” but I’m still happy with what I’m eating (and how much of it I’m eating) because it’s Really Effing Delicious. I don’t feel deprived. I know that sounds like a no brainer, but for me it’s a lesson I feel like I’m having to re-learn constantly. This year will be the year that the lesson sticks.

So, that’s my list, folks! Feel free to share your own. 

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Indian Carrot Custard with Chai Chantilly Cream and Pistachio-Ginger Crumble

Hi folks! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. Since most of my family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and the bit that does is not local, every year I get to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with a different group of friends and their family. They’re all so wonderful to invite me into their celebrations, and I feel incredibly lucky to have so many generous and hospitable friends! 

This year, Christmas was spent with my friend Kristie and her family. Kristie’s kitchen has become my test kitchen over the past few months. It’s a trade-off— I take over her bright, roomy kitchen for a day and in return she gets to be my guinea pig and try all the different versions of the dishes I create. 

This recipe is one of the three I submitted for the scholarship contest. I absolutely love Indian food, and no matter where I’m eating it, if carrot pudding is on the menu I must have some. It’s that wonderful carrot pudding that inspired this dessert, a smooth, creamy custard packed with sweet carrot and cardamom, then topped off with the spicy flavours of chai and the crunch of pistachios.

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Custard
Ingredients:                                                               
4 C shredded carrots                                                                       
1 C full fat coconut milk                                                                
1 ¼ C + 2 T Half & Half                                                                    
¼ C light brown sugar                                                                    
½ tsp ground cardamom                                                              
2 eggs    
¼ C salted butter 

Equipment:
Medium sauce pot
Wooden spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Four 4 oz. ramekins
Tea kettle or 2nd pot for boiling water
One large roasting pan or baking pan
Can opener
Hand grater

Instructions:
Heat the carrots, half & half, and coconut milk in a pot until just boiling. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring often, until most of the liquid is absorbed, approximately 1 hour. Remove from the heat.

Mix the brown sugar, cardamom, and butter into the carrot mixture. Stir until the butter has melted and the brown sugar is dissolved.  Pour into the blender. Add the two eggs, one at a time, while the blender is running. Continue to puree until the mixture is smooth and creamy. The mixture should be thick, but you can add the additional 2 tablespoons of half and half if needed to make it pourable.

Preheat the oven to 325°. Heat a full kettle or pot of water to boiling. Place the ramekins into a large baking pan and fill each slightly more than half way with the custard. Place the baking pan onto the middle oven rack, and pour the boiling water into the pan, around the ramekins.  The water should come up to the level of the custard inside the cups.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until set. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Chai Spiced Chantilly Cream
Ingredients:
                                                                           
1 C heavy cream                                                                    
1 T confectioner’s sugar                                                        
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg

Equipment:
Large metal mixing bowl, chilled
Large whisk or Stand mixer with whisk attachment

Instructions:
If mixing the cream by hand, pour the cream into the chilled mixing bowl and begin to whisk air into it, tilting the bowl slightly and using keeping the motion in your wrist. As you do so, you’ll begin to notice the whisk leaving trails in the cream. At this point you can begin adding the sugar and spices, one at a time, until well incorporated. Continue whisking until soft peaks form.  Cover and refrigerate.

Pistachio-Ginger Crumble Garnish
Ingredients:                                                                           
¼ C pistachios, shelled and chopped  
1 T crystallized ginger, chopped         

Equipment:
Large knife and cutting board
Small bowl

Combine the chopped pistachios and crystallized ginger in a small bowl, to be used as garnish.

Construction:
Top each serving of custard with 1-2 tablespoons of Chantilly cream, then sprinkle the pistachio-ginger mixture on top.

Merry Christmas to me!

This is all it takes to make my Christmas merry. I’m giddy just imagining all the apples I will core.

Confit-dentially

My culinary school is having a scholarship contest. First prize is $3,000 towards first quarter’s tuition. That’s a pretty large chunk of change. Plus, imagine being the winner, starting off your tenure as a culinary student with a win like that under your belt. Pretty major boost in confidence, I’d say.

I just found out about the contest at the end of November, so I had to work fast if I wanted to hit the January 3rd deadline. Today, I’m sharing one of my three original recipes required in the contest rules: Savory Thyme Shortbread Sandwich Cookies with Fig Confit & Goat Cheese Filling.

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Basic shortbread is a simple recipe that comes together quickly, and this one requires only one additional ingredient— fresh thyme. These sandwich cookies are rich, and more savory than sweet, which make them a good one (or maybe two) bite appetizer with a glass of wine.

Shortbread
Ingredients:                                                               
2 C All-Purpose flour                                                                      
¼ C confectioner’s sugar                                
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves                     
¾ tsp salt
1 C unsalted, room temperature butter                                
Water (if necessary)       

Equipment:
Large mixing bowl
Wooden mixing spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Electric hand mixer or food processor
Plastic wrap
Parchment paper or silicone baking mat
Baking sheet
Wide spatula 
Wire cooling rack
Knife & small cutting board for chopping

Instructions:
Combine the flour, sugar, salt and thyme in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix with an electric hand beater (or in a food processor) just until the mixture forms a soft dough. The dough should hold together when squeezed in your hand. If the dough is not forming, mix in water 1 tsp at a time by hand until the dough holds together.

Lay a large sheet of plastic wrap on a work surface, and move the dough onto it. Along the edge nearest to you, form the dough into a log approximately 2” in diameter. Roll the dough log forward, wrapping it in the plastic. Twist the ends in opposite directions until the dough is compact. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for about an hour to firm it up.

Once the dough is firm, pre-heat the oven to 375°. Line the baking sheet with the parchment or baking mat. Slice the dough into 1/3” slices and place 1” apart on the baking sheet. Bake just until the edges of each cookie start to brown, about 12 minutes. Allow the shortbread to cool for about 5 minutes on the baking sheet, and then move them to the wire rack to finish cooling. This recipe makes 30 cookies.

Fig Confit
Ingredients:
                                                                           
¾ C + 3 T red wine (I used 2011 14 Hands Merlot)               
3 C dried Turkish figs, cut into quarters                                
½ C granulated sugar
½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/8 tsp salt

Equipment:
Medium saucepan with a lid
Spoon to stir
Knife and cutting board

Instructions:
Put all ingredients into the saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and allow to reduce for about 20 minutes. The confit should be bubbling and thick. Using the back of the spoon, mash any large chunks of fig until the confit is spreadable. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Additional Ingredients:
4-6 oz softened goat cheese (You could use regular cream cheese if you’re not a goat cheese fan. I would just recommend that you stick to cheeses that have a bit of a tang.)

Construction:
Gently spread approximately 1 ½ tsp of confit onto half of the shortbread cookies. Spread the other half of the cookies with 1 tsp of the softened goat cheese. Bear in mind that shortbread can be a bit delicate, so it’s important to handle them lightly while spreading the filling.

Place one cookie spread with fig, filling side down, into one cookie spread with goat cheese to form a sandwich. Repeat with all the cookies. 

Tarty McTarterson

Cindy Mushet’s Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta)

‘Tis the season for holiday potlucks. If you’re already bored of your standby holiday dessert recipes, give this one a shot. It was super duper easy, it turns out really pretty with minimal attention to presentation, and isn’t overly sweet, which is a nice change of pace from that sugar high you’re gonna be riding all the way through to New Years. One little recipe note: The recipe says you should let this bake for 45-50 minutes, but mine only took about 35. Just keep an eye on it after the 30 minute mark. All the butter in that crust means it could go from barely blonde to overdone in a hurry.

I got the recipe from Food52. If you aren’t already following their tumblr, do it now. So many great recipes without a lot of fuss or specialty ingredients.